1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

16. Cervantes - D. Quixote (Part I: 1605, Part II: 1615)

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Francisco: Well this was at the same time the longest but also most enjoyable read of the list until now. Let's start with the negative points of the book. Mr. Cervantes could have done with a good editor, whole sections of the book are pretty useless to the main story but fortunately Cervantes was smart enough to realise this by the time he published D. Quixote part deux. Curiously he actually apologises for wasting the readers time with his drivel.

His drivel is actually quite good, it just doesn't fit the book. Of course this didn't stop many of the writers before him doing pointless interpolations in the middle of their main stories. The simple fact that Cervantes is aware of this shows a big shift in novel writing. And Quixote is the most recognisable book as a modern novel on the list up until now actually it is spectacularly modern in many parts.

D. Quixote is about much more than fighting windmills and laughing at Alzheimer's. It is also fiction about fiction, and very much a book about itself. The self-referencing is insane, from characters finding books from Cervantes and prasing them to high-heavens to Part II where everyone knows Quixote and Pança because they have read Part I. It isn't strange that Borges paid tribute to Quixote in Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote there is much of Cervantes in Borges and what our minds think of as very 20th century innovations in literature stare mockingly at us from the 1600's.

Is it overly long? Yes. Do you empathise with the characters and let them become a part of your family? Yes. Do You feel sad when you finish it, because you want more? Yes.

So, it is a good novel but like all universally loved books you can fall in the trap of being acritical, and this is not a perfect book, parts of it can be done without and it can become repetitive at times. It is however a very enjoyable and innovative one.

Vanda: Now this, my friends, is a lovely book. Very very long, but very, very good.

Cervantes has been added to my imaginary "dream dinner party" scenario. He's funny, but also very sensitive. He thinks nothing of going off on tangents to tell stories he (probably) dreamed up the night before, or on badly disguised rants against the writer who dared to write the continuation of the D. Quixote story, without his knowledge or permission. You don't mind this however. You don't mind this a bit! (Well...I didn't, at least)

As is probably fairly clear on the last paragraph, the story doesn't have a linear structure per se, but the beauty is that Cervantes writes so well that you're quite happy to follow him (and D. Quixote) wherever they go. And once you've come to love the madman, he throws you a very sad ending, not so much because D. Quixote dies (which you start predicting since the beginning), but that he regains his sanity in the last moments of his life. It was a beautiful madness, and you're sorry to see it go.

Final Grade

Francisco: 9/10
Vanda: 9/10


From Wiki

Don Quixote is often nominated as the world's greatest work of fiction. It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former consist of disconnected stories with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter are usually focused on the psychological evolution of their characters. In Part I, Quixote imposes himself on his environment. By Part II, he is no longer physically capable, but people know about him, "having read his adventures," and so, he needs to do less to maintain his image. By his deathbed, he has begun to assume a new identity, including a nickname, "the Good."

The novel contains many minor literary "firsts" for European literature—a woman complaining of her menopause, someone with an eating disorder, and the psychological revealing of their troubles as something inner to themselves.

Subtle touches regarding perspective are everywhere: characters talk about a woman who is the cause of the death of a suitor, portraying her as evil, but when she comes on stage, she gives a different perspective entirely that makes Quixote (and thus the reader) defend her. When Quixote descends into a cave, Cervantes admits that he does not know what went on there.

Quixote's adventures tend to involve situations in which he attempts to apply a knight's sure, simple morality to situations in which much more complex issues are at hand. For example, upon seeing a band of galley slaves being mistreated by their guards, he believes their cries of innocence and attacks the guards. After they are freed, he demands that they honor his lady Dulcinea, but instead they pelt him with stones and leave.

Different ages have tended to read different things into the novel. When it was first published, it was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution it was popular in part due to its central ethic that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and disenchanting—not comic at all. In the 19th century it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell "whose side Cervantes was on." By the 20th century it had come to occupy a canonical space as one of the foundations of modern literature.

American author Barry Gifford described "Don Quixote" as "the first Beat novel."

Following the Cuban revolution, the revolutionary government founded a publishing house called Instituto Cubano del Libro (Cuban Book Institute), to publish large runs of great literature for distribution at low prices to the masses. The first book published by the Instituto was Don Quixote.

For the 400th anniversary of the original publication of the novel, the Venezuelan government printed one million summarized copies for free distribution. Similar initiatives took place in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries around the world.


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